No 18 - September 2002
It stands by its own stump
in a clearing of its own making,
still floored with the sawdust of its metamorphosis,
a complex rubic cube of sawn timber, shoulder height,
sections of trunk and branch fitted together, down
to the smallest. Rounded sections cornered off
by bark. No leaves.
Diameter of tree at breast height = 86 cm
Height of usable timber = 9.4 m
Total volume of trunk = 3.52 m cubed
A circle of living oaks surround it, their tops
swaying and rustling in the autumn wind.
Drifts of leaves wash down to settle on cut wood.
I wanted to know, the artist said,
what kind of space
it would leave in the canopy.
Crown = 3.62 m cubed
Roots = 3.62 m cubed
I wanted to know how much light it would give.
The live oaks move around the empty space
of blue. Almost a circle.
Total weight of dry timber = 7,819 kilos
Calorific value of oak = 10 Mega Joules per kilo
1 Watt = 1 Joule per second
A 100 Watt light bulb = 360,000 Joules per hour
or 3,153,600,000 Joules per year...
Divide the calorific value of the timber
by the Mega Joules per year and you discover
that this oak could keep
a 100 Watt light bulb burning for 24 years and 290 days
Did you think, I ask, of collecting and weighing the insects
that lived in the tree, the birds?
Calculating the poundage? I could have, he said,
there are so many questions.
Imagine the volume of water a mature oak tree draws
from the ground each day or in the course of a year.
How would you calculate that? You would certainly need to know
something of the water table in the area, the tree’s dimensions
its volume of leaves and the density of planting in the vicinity
It was one of the Navy Oaks, grown
from acorns planted in 1810
at the behest of Lord Nelson, a single eyed man,
who worried about the lack of timber, the future of the navy.
By the time it matured the iron ships had come,
since trees inhabit a different time scale
from the affairs of nations. And so
it grew for another century, survived
to answer an artist’s questions.
I asked the man from the Forestry, standing by me:
Was it due to be cut down? Eventually, he shrugged.
Eventually. Well yes, eventually applies to all of us.
I touch the raw cut surfaces gently.
Here the chain saw has made random wave patterns,
there two saw cuts meet at an angle configuring
a wind swept dune in the Sahara
or a new fold of mountain.
There is beauty in the thing.
It is homey coloured, unweathered.
When, the thought occurs, will an artist
ask similar questions of a human?
Of what volume is a person?
What kind of hole would one make in the canopy?
How much air, water, fire, wood, does a human consume
in 24 years and 290 days?
What would a person look like sawn in sections
cut ends of bone neatly jointed
the interstices packed with flesh?
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